Number of swine flu cases in U.S. reaches 57 million


— An estimated 57 million Americans have contracted pandemic H1N1
influenza since the outbreak began last April, about 257,000 have been
hospitalized with complications from it and nearly 12,000 have died,
according to estimates released Friday by the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention.

The total number infected represents an increase of
about 7 million flu cases since the latest estimate in December, a
modest increase that correlates with other data suggesting the pandemic
has been waning.

Most cases in all categories have involved children
and adults under age 65, a sharp change from normal flu seasons, when
the elderly suffer disproportionately. Although the overall death total
is lower than the estimated 35,000 U.S. deaths in a normal flu season,
the numbers in children and adults are much higher than normal.

The estimates are compiled from the number of
laboratory-confirmed cases and from cases that may be listed on death
certificates as pneumonia, organ failure or other infections, but that
were precipitated by flu.

The most recent data on flu activity, for the week ending Feb. 6,
show that overall activity is about the same as the previous week, with
no states reporting widespread flu activity. Virtually all cases of
influenza that were tested have been caused by the H1N1 virus rather
than by seasonal flu viruses, a finding that leads some experts to
predict — rather hopefully — that the country will not see a regular
flu season this year.

Nonetheless, according to the official CDC report,
“Flu activity, caused by either 2009 H1N1 or seasonal flu viruses, may
rise and fall, but it is expected to continue for several more months.”

The World Health Organization said Thursday that it
will convene a panel of experts at the end of the month to discuss a
move to the next phase of the pandemic, the so-called post-peak phase.
That is a time, according to WHO documents, when “levels of pandemic
influenza in most countries with adequate surveillance have dropped
below peak levels.” That phase suggests that the worst is over, but
that the pandemic itself is not.

The WHO’s advisory committee on vaccines will meet
next week to discuss what virus strains should be included in the
2010-2011 seasonal flu vaccine. Because swine flu is the predominant
form of virus that is now circulating, it is expected to be the primary

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